What’s normal now (3)…The men questionTorrey Orton
Jan 5, 2014
What’s wrong with men?
“We’re redundant” is what I thought in the night as this question rolled around for the nth time. And on seeing the morning papers I had my sense confirmed by Camille Paglia’s reported fear that the West has lost manliness in its engagement with late modernity (THE AUSTRALIAN 01012014). Undoubtedly I’m overreacting to my sense of the state of men, but the depth pushes some warning buttons.
If you’ve ever been unexpectedly made redundant you know the experience makes the word have a terrorising power, diminished only by overuse. Its cognates ‘in excess of needs’, ‘position deleted in restructure’ and ‘superfluous’ often mask a “constructive dismissal” more sharply capture the intent – to designate a thing which has lost its meaningfulness in its context, a disposable, a discardable, refuse, trash. This is violence, by the way. The experience is only not experienced as an assault on the self if you discovered in the moment that you really always wanted to get out of the place and they’ll pay you to go!
When I first started working on this article a month ago I took to my shelves and found 23 books with ‘violence’ in their titles, not including William T. Vollman’s eight volume suite Rising Up and Rising Down (2003). The word feels male, though not only men violate. We just do physical violence in undeniably larger proportions compared to women. And we all respond to death threats with more alarm than to the multi-faceted violations of social, financial, and stereotyped soul murders which proceed often in deniable bite by bite, day in and day out.
A violence footnote. Human violence is a continuous dimension within which physical violences are but one class and only about 20% of the reported violations the rest of which are normally grouped under headings like social, financial, etc. The latter are tools of manipulation mastered by bullies and supported by the fearful around them. The soul murder effect is that all violences are attacks on the self which shrink the self, making it feel the author of its own ills. Not surprisingly we feel the imminence of death with greater apprehension than the slow burn of disrespect, so our virtual experience (mediated by news systems) is surrounded with reminders of that end of the violence spectrum. It sells to our already cued apprehensions.
Offending without intent
So there arises, over and over again, the wonder: What’s wrong with us men? I should have had a viewer warning classification before that sentence, knowing that it will offend some part of the population which identifies as male, as if 90 to 10 (even though only percentiles) were not a winning score in anyone’s games. Following on, all men are men and different, as are members of all classes of organic, sexually reproduced beings, and all classes of anything (not sure about all electrons, though!)…including the word ‘all’ of course.
Here’s another such warning. My aim is to create enough of a picture of the male place within the human world one to provide some perspective on the question ‘What’s wrong with men?’ I claim no special knowledge about us (men) and my perspective is undoubtedly shaped by its origin. Not my choice; just my fate. I always wonder about being human, and am limited by my masculinity. I manage to do alright with both male and female patients about being human, so that limitation is not incapacitating so far.
And a final limit: I’m mainly talking about the industrial or ‘advanced’ or first world states in what follows. Shortage of material culture may increase the rate of violence by nature, but not by inclination or spiritual deprivation. In fact there’s some evidence that people with little or less material can be quite “happy” as long as their material state is not seen as a personal failing (as it is in our culture) and the gap between them and enough is not stratospheric (as it also is in ours).
The biopsychosocio(economic)spiritual(cultural) health model
Let’s start with a relatively accepted version of what it means to be human – the five categories of well-being common to the health fraternity (not that we don’t squabble usefully about the contents and configuration of well-being). These five categories are not mutually exclusive, nor are they intrinsically male, though I’ll focus on their predictive impact for men.
Men and women differ in lots that has to do with the child making and upbringing systems in all cultures, but neither can suffice alone to sustain the systems (unless we move to a totally artificially inseminated system in which case we can reduce men to the proportions held artificially by bulls and stallions in domestic herds; apprehensions about early adopters hit the local newspapers recently. (THEAGE mother-of-all-questions-do-we-need-men-at-all 20131211).
We do not differ in intrinsic brain capacities, though neuroscientists of various hues persist in trying to make a difference by promoting gender differences as science of the brain. This has a long history of great profitability in the Men are from…Women are from… genre. We’re all from earth and all trying to be whole, but evolution (or God if you prefer) fitted us up for conflict by dividing reproduction in two. After classifying us for biological purposes as featherless bi-peds, Plato suggested 2300 years ago that humans were endlessly in search of their other halves.
Forming an identity is an early life demand and sustaining it over time among the ebb and flow of life a persistent challenge. Identity pollution affects as all differentially through the excess of options, denigrations and/or degenerations postmodernity subjects us to. Uncertainty is the shared theme of our times. There are a number of sources of identity: gender/sex, race, ethnicity, and religion are given and permanently so. Others are given, but changeable – skills, competences, interests, temperament, age, etc. And there are the settings for realising ourselves – various attachments and affiliations with varying degrees of choice in their composition.
Persistent stress of a high order tends to regress individuals, groups and cultures. The violent men who are the notional topic of this discussion will be shown to be regressed by a variety of systemic pressures. For examples of groups, have a look at sport and religious groups which do battle with competing groups at levels of violence they would deny they are doing. For cultures which are regressed try those with democratic processes where the systems are binding up – here, the US, UK - and undemocratic ones (China, Russia…) which are becoming visibly and consciously nationalist and social phobic.
There are reasons to think our socio-economic universe is seriously compromised in ways which stress pretty much everyone including the incredibly, piggishly wealthy who seem afraid someone’s going to take their excesses away. More stressed of course are the bottom 20% of our societies who are getting somewhere close to survival income or none at all but variations on the dole (a combination of the unemployed, the under-employed and the quit looking and so not reported in the government unemployment stats used to demonstrate comparative rates of progress with the issue).
Then there’s three systemic defects among our systems: the most outstanding of which at the moment is the unwillingness of companies to share with the employed the profits they are creating while the economy stays flat for them; and nearby is the persistent stress on productivity which seems to mean reducing worker input to outputs and reducing expenditure on worker conditions; and finally there’s the persistent expectation that a redundancy cannot be far away. In fact we should keep our portfolios packed. These effects are felt across all strata in the employ of others. Small business is its own burden.
The patterns and meanings of hierarchy are usually male, with female sideline participation (except notably, Germany, Denmark, Brazil and Oz briefly, of late). Within social/biological groupings there are the have mores and have lesses, mediated by the placement of other groups outside the structure determined by privileged attributes (gender, race, etc.). These provide someone else to disrespect with certainty. The Others give the low power dominant group members an out for their weakness within the group…often expressed with rage not expressible at their own group’s dominant members (note Oz mateship’s decline). See the US for the loudest demonstrations of this process in open view. Note Putin’s retro cultural moves of adding homophobia to Russia’s chronic xenophobia, for a non-democratic example.
The incidence of bullying at all levels across all kinds of enterprise and activity can be understood as just a side-effect of the power struggle in the traditional hierarchies. Not surprisingly, they are extremely resistant to change since every position holder in a hierarchy is a participant in the system of dominance (which maybe is also unavoidable in many circumstances).
It would be hard to come away from a review of the major religions without an impression that worldly and otherworldly religious leadership is male. Some espouse this with blind certainty – the centres of the big two monotheisms and the fringes of Judaism. Fringes seem to be especially male.
What’s wronged in men?
We know from James Gilligan’s theory in Preventing Violence (1999) that anger aggressively expressed is sourced from the material, psychological and spiritual deprivations of endemic poverty with no perceived or actual hope of exit for the deprived. But this alone is not enough. For violence is not only perpetrated by men who are in the grip of poverty. “…the real cause of violence…is overwhelming and otherwise inescapable and ineradicable shame.” …. “almost any experience that can leave a man feeling ashamed does so by leaving him feeling that he is something less than a man.” Have you been dissed lately, or worse inadvertently dissed someone else?
What are the effects of dissing by others, or by life? Diminution of manhood. And that’s what? Impugned ability to procreate; impugned ability to provide; impugned ability to defend / protect one’s family; and, impugned ability to work well (that’s vocation, or doing socially valued work, of course). This fate may be that of the 20%.
How, then, can those in objective power (our politicians and their social/intellectual acolytes) also not feel powerful? Rather, they may feel dissed by the world they’ve aspired to rule and been granted the opportunity to have a go. Try this: they cannot control a bunch of peoples who they do not understand and never had to before – Chinese, Indians, and Indonesian; they cannot be saved from these peoples by The USA, which is having its own taste of dissing by low power others; and our Economy is in disarray as mining falters and farming flourishes into the hands of others…and on it goes.
So they give themselves vigorously to dissing the powerless or low powerful – legal asylum seekers, LGBT couples, the unemployed - and label any question of misdistribution of social product as “envy politics” and “class warfare” even where the distribution gap is egregious by anyone’s count of the published numbers. Again, why the anger if they have the power? The rich certainly have the numbers, so one can only imagine they are ashamed, too. (For an articulate and privileged view of our emerging diss culture see Tim Winton’s “The C Word” in The Monthly Dec. 2013).
Maybe that’s why there are so many angry men on the front bench – Scott Morrison, Corey Bernardi, Eric Abetz, Tony Abbott, George Brandis, Christopher Pyne (a longhaired Chihuahua – large bark, little bite and aware of it, who’s in danger of becoming a throw rug due to uncontrollable mouthing the ankles of his master’s clients), Andrew Robb …all in power and wielding it angrily, as if their power is in doubt and they are offended by the fact. They, too, seem to feel diminished, to actually be powerless when they are at their most powerful.
Or, for another example, what do you make of Scott Morrison’s resistance, smirking mixed with teeth showing, to questioning by Leigh Sales on 7:30 Report, as if to be questioned puts him in the face of an unveiling – his own. The theme of information restriction which has dominated government approaches to the public stems perhaps from the same fear - that of being revealed.
Let’s be clear, as the record of exclusions from federal parliament make it, that the other guys are no better. Albanese is second fiddle to Pyne’s first for being tossed out for outrageousness…all in the name of holding on to their turf. So you can do the same dog tagging exercise for them to be fair. And both parties have, with for all purposes equal intensity, vilified the weak (asylum seekers) to deprive them of their legal legitimacy and denied the different (LGBT).
In between the criminal end of violence (the males who make up the newsfeeds of daily publications) and the public darlings above are the middling mass of men who sport the embellishments of anger and aggression, most obviously the prematurely bald head and, in a lower but not scarce number, the buff body which exceeds the needs of the normal office suit. Add on the prevalence of permanent body painting and a message of deep superficial confusion about the self emerges, now both his and hers.
These are often carried in vehicles of military mien ranging from the Subaru XV and a host of rough lookalikes both 2 and 4WD with a “T” on the power pack signage over the dual to quad exhausts to the Hummers which need no description – the ultimate sign of power is a standalone name. This design – a scrunched down butt sticking up at vehicles following pulled by a bared teeth grill – seems pretty international and price independent.
Bauman’s liquid fear
In Liquid Fear (2006) Bauman talks about “derivative fear” as “a steady frame of mind that is best described as the sentiment of being susceptible to danger; a feeling of insecurity…and vulnerability…” It is created and sustained by experience threatening our core functionalities in environments like:
(1) free ranging consumerism, (2) invasive technologies, (3) mutually contradictory “evidence-based” discoveries, (4) productivity-driven organisational reconfigurations and (5) spontaneously intruding natural disasters (volcanic, seismological, hydrological, meteorological and so on) visit upon us from near (try headlines in papers and news programs for excitability quotient levels) and far (if there’s no disasters near then they’re imported from afar, especially those similar enough to us to be considered almost seamlessly us – to incite sympathetic feelings, comforting us with the manageability yet pathetic nature of our afflictions compared to the inconceivable ones of other places where the scales of disasters are often inhumanly large for us as in Indonesia, Philippines, Japan: ah, those uncontrollably different others, again, too).
At this point fear embraces most of us, gathering us up in the folds of the neoliberal mantra – profit is primary and all to the shareholders and damn the world. Maybe the various rages (road, shopping, neighbourly….) are lead indicators of this underlying despair?? They’ve actually been around for a decade or two. And the binges – eating, drugging – are ways of covering hurts, too.
I know this is not everyone’s experience, but even some of those for whom these are the most personally exciting of times can acknowledge it ain’t necessarily so for many others. And in this country the story’s about to get worse, so everyone’s telling us (suddenly it seems, but not). Perhaps the American diseases are for us, too:
“…Profit, not equal rights or freedom of religion or any of the other high-minded principles we seize to bolster our selective outrage, is the real coin of the realm. And, as if you didn’t know, it quacks like a duck.”
Kathleen Parker, Washington Post 251213 discussing the latest American culture war storm, Duck Dynasty.
Redundant, my tail feathers!